REPRINTED/AMMENDED FROM THE TIMES HIGHER EDUCATION SUPPLEMENT, LONDON--October 5th 2007 (See "Documenting Injustice" in the Features section of THES):
A Mythical Road to Palestine
By Stephen A. Desmond
Journalist & Lecturer Stephen Desmond writes about his new film for Al Jazeera English "The Jaweed Al Ghussein Story" and interviews Mona Bauwens Al Ghussein about her father's abduction:
November 2007 will see Mona Bauwens Al Ghussein launch a new legal initiative to secure justice for her father Jaweed, the former Chairman of the Palestinian National Fund who suffered a serious human rights violation at the hands of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and the Authorities in Abu Dhabi. My current film production "The Jaweed Al Ghussein Story" is commissioned by Al Jazeera English (AJE) for broadcast worldwide this Autumn. The film tells the tale of Al Ghussein's abduction, his eventual release, and how, today, his daughter Mona continues to campaign publicly on his behalf.
Palestinian-born Jaweed Al Ghussein is a 73-year-old businessman who graduated from the American University in Cairo and built up a construction and engineering concern based in Abu Dhabi. Al Ghussein served as Chairman of the Palestinian National Fund and as a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, but he quit the PLO in 1996 after a series of differences with Yasser Arafat developed. Al Ghussein called publicly for greater transparency in terms of how the Palestinian funds were managed by Arafat. At the direction of Yasser Arafat, and with the agreement of the Authorities in Abu Dhabi, Al Ghussein was ultimately kidnapped from Abu Dhabi -in a white Bentley and Yasser Arafat's private plane -- and taken to Gaza, where he was kept incommunicado in presidential "guest" quarters or held under armed guard in private quarters or the hospital for a total of 16 months.
The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention investigated the detention of Al Ghussein and ruled that the Palestinian Authority was violating Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in a way that "manifestly cannot be justified on any legal basis." The Palestinian Authority's own Minister of Justice protested publicly that Al Ghussein was being detained completely outside the Authority's legal system. Amnesty International, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights and the Arab Human Rights Organization also called on the Authority to free him. Jaweed Al Ghussein was ultimately released in August 2002 following a sustained public campaign by his daughter Mona Bauwens Al Ghussein
I recently visited Ms Al Ghussein in her Mayfair home to ask her why she is continuing her legal fight to secure a public apology both from the Authorities in Abu Dhabi and The Palestinian Authority. She spoke eloquently about her father's abduction and why she is determined to secure public acknowledgement and apology from those responsible:
“The day my life changed”
“Well, I think the day my life changed was basically the 19th April, 2000 when I was having a normal life in London quite happy with my daughter, when I got a phone call in the middle of the night from my mother in Abu Dhabi saying ‘you have got to come home!, you have got to come home! They have taken your father’. I said ‘What do you mean they have taken my father? Who has taken my father?’ It was a complete and utter nightmare! I didn’t know what to think! Who had taken him? My parents were living in Abu Dhabi---it was supposed to be a safe, respectable country. One thinks that these sorts of incidents don’t happen in a place like that. When you have led such a privileged life as we had—he had history, comfort, position---it sounds an awful thing to say, but you don’t expect something like this to happen to you or one of your family members. During the next 72 hours we really didn’t know what was happening. My father, to this day, does not really talk about it. When we asked the Authorities in Abu Dhabi why this was happening all we kept on hearing was ‘Orders from above!, Orders from Above.’ Who did they mean? It was obviously the rulers of Abu Dhabi. My father wasn’t allowed any access to lawyers. We had to beg for him to be allowed his medication because he is diabetic—insulin dependent.”
“After the initial 72 hours my father completely disappeared—completely disappeared. My mother and my brother went to every police station, every ministry, called up every Sheik and every Sheika. Nobody would give us any information. We had no idea where my father had been moved. And, as it turned out in fact, for the next five months my father was totally and completely incommunicado. Ultimately, however, we did find out eventually that he had been abducted to Gaza and was being held under house-arrest.”
“We functioned daily on threats and intimidation.”
“At that point I called every person in the region I could think of that could help. Nobody would give me an answer. The Arab world just became completely closed to us. We were people-non-grata. And the message was very, very clear—keep quiet and shut up! And it is horrific when this happens to you and you don’t know why it is happening.
My father had always been such a passionate believer in human rights, in justice for everybody—he didn’t care what colour you were, what race you were, where you came from, but suddenly we were thrown into this void where there was no law, where there was complete lawlessness. We functioned daily on threats and intimidation. My mother would get calls from so-called respectable people---people who if I told you their names in the Palestinian Movement you would be shocked! These are the people that represent the Palestinian people. Yet they were calling my mother, an elderly woman, telling her ‘ If your children don’t stop talking either to The Press or Lawyers we are going to withdraw the insulin, your children will never see their father alive’. They would call other members of the family and say similar things. It was horrific at every level. And what was even worse was the fact that we just didn’t know what was really going on.”
“It is about justice. It is about the rule of law. It is about equity.”
“My father was ultimately released after 16 months of illegal detention. Several years later, people say ‘Well you are here-you are in England now, you have your parents, you have your family. Why can’t you just drop it?’ I have to say in response that it isn’t just about our family. It’s about justice. It is about the rule of law. It’s about equity, It’s about due process. It is about that no one, no matter who you are, whatever you are, should have to go through such a process. And what makes me angrier, really angry, is that countries like Abu Dhabi that are trying to promote themselves as civilized countries, that are trying to encourage the international business community to come and do business, that are trying to promote themselves on tourism, actually treated my father, as indeed they treat other people as a sheer commodities---as far as they are concerned we are just commodities to be traded. When it came to the treatment of my father there was absolutely and completely no law!”
“It is very difficult when you are fighting a very powerful government like Abu Dhabi which has unlimited resources financially, on top of that it has unlimited political clout because of its oil resources. Every time I tried to contact the Foreign Office here in London, who were tremendously helpful to me, they would say things to me off-the-record but on-the-record they were actually put in quiet a difficult position because there are 50,000 British subjects in the Emirates, there are numerous contracts at stake—nobody wants to upset the apple cart.”
“My father fought for the Palestinian People.”
“My father has fought for the Palestinian people, for their rights, for their education, for their right to have a country to call their own. Somebody who has a known history of that--way before it became fashionable to get on the human rights/ accountability/ transparency bandwagon--when this happens to someone like him it is an eye-opener to see that even Western governments don’t want to do anything. They don’t want to upset oil-rich countries. They don’t want to upset the apple cart. And everybody is expected to keep quiet. But I feel we have a voice and we should speak out!”
“We want a public apology from Abu Dhabi and The Palestinian Authority”
“For me, as it is for my Father, as it is for my Mother, Brother and my Daughter who is the future generation, my campaign is about ensuring that this kind of injustice does not happen again, and that the people who did this to my father are brought to account.”
“Throughout all of this nightmare all we have ever asked of Abu Dhabi, Yasser Arafat and subsequently Abu Massin, is give us a public apology that what you did was wrong and that it will never happen again. They don’t even have the courtesy or the decency to address this. We just get fobbed off all the time. But I am determined that someday soon they will have to tell the world that what they did to us was wrong. And I can tell you now that I will never rest until that day comes!”
Like a mythical road to Palestine, Mona Bauwens Al Ghussein’s struggle to focus public attention on her father’s case has been long and arduous. Her legal bid to secure a public apology from Abu Dhabi and The Palestinian Authority is opening a new chapter in November when Jason McCue, a partner in the boutique London law firm ‘H2O Law’ which specialises in counter-terrorism and restorative justice, will serve petitions on behalf of the Al Ghussein family.
“The Jaweed Al Ghussein Story”, my documentary film, will screen worldwide on Al Jazeera English (AJE) this Autumn.
Stephen Desmond is Senior Lecturer in Media at Thames Valley University, Course Leader for the MA in Video Production & Film Studies, and Deputy Director of The Centre for Conflict Resolution Journalism (www.ccrj.org). He is a member of the National Union of Journalists and has been inducted into London’s famous ‘Frontline Club’ for war correspondents. His full biography is available at: